Best Surprise Tournament Wins In Poker

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The Best Surprise Tournament Victories in Poker:

With its perfect balance of skill and fortune, poker provides us with some fairytale stories. Even a rookie can triumph with a measly 7-deuce over Phil Ivey’s aces, or outdraw Tom Dwan to make his flush. Here we commemorate just a few of poker’s fairytale tournament victories.

Chris Moneymaker Victory, WSOP 2003 Main Event

Chris Moneymaker’s rags to riches story had global repercussions and is widely considered to be the trigger for the ‘poker boom’. When the beefy Chris Moneymaker sat down at his computer in early 2003 to play a $39 satellite on PokerStars, he had little idea his journey would end in a $2.5 million World Series Main Event triumph.

The story of a humble, reserved man from Atlanta, Georgia going on to rule the poker world epitomised the American dream, and had a ripple effect known as the ‘Moneymaker Effect’. Having released a book entitled, ‘Moneymaker: How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $40 into $2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker’ people began to dream, and the popularity of online poker soared.

Moneymaker, having eliminated and beat off legends such as Phil Ivey and Johnny Chan on the way with some shrewd bluffs and controlled aggression, Moneymaker than faced off against the charismatic Sammy Farha in heads-up play. ‘Money800’s (Moneymaker’s alias on PokerStars) most memorable moment came when he bluffed Farha off a monster pot with just king high (which you can see below). On a 9s 2d 6s 8s 3h board, Moneymaker held 7h Ks for a busted flush and straight draw. Regardless, his all-in commanded respect and Farha laid down top pair (9h Qs).

PokerStars jumped on the bandwagon by adding Moneymaker to their professional poker team. However Moneymaker has displayed the expert reading abilities that propelled him to WSOP victory in 2003 consistently. Since he has endured muted tournament success, with Moneymaker’s highlights including a second place finish at the 2004 WPT Shooting Stars for $200k, and 6th place at the $10k NLH PokerStars WCOOP in 2008.


Stu Ungar, WSOP 1997 Main Event

Along with Phil Ivey, Stu Ungar is considered to be the greatest player ever to take to the green felt. A natural whizz with cards, Ungar was the world’s premier Gin Rummy player before competition dried up, or rather, went bust.

Turning his attention to poker having befriended future backer Billy Baxter, the 1980 World Series of Poker Main Event was supposed to be a gentle induction. However, Ungar steamrollered the field to win, winning the praise of legend Doyle Brunson, and returned the following year to successfully defend his title.

So why, therefore, was his 1997 Main Event triumph such a surprise, or fairytale story? In the interim period, Ungar had become ravaged by drug addiction, and was devastated by the suicide of his step son in 1986, divorcing his wife soon after. His reckless cocaine abuse plunged his life into turmoil, with Ungar reportedly going from millionaire to broke four times. He frittered all his winnings on horses and drugs, coming dangerously close to death by overdosing on the latter.

In 1997, however, Ungar received a $10k stake from Baxter to play in the WSOP Main Event. With his frail body showing the physical toll of drug addiction (Ungar’s nasal membranes were eroded), the ‘Comeback Kid’ didn’t disappoint, and went on to amass a big chip lead. In heads-up play (which you can see below), he defeated John Strimp by making a straight on the turn, for a handsome $1 million. In the post tournament interview, Ungar pledged to interview Gabe Kaplan he would reform his life for the sake of his daughter, but in 1998, Stuey tragically died of a drug overdose.

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